In the Americas, chiles are a traditional staple, along with corn, beans, squash, potatoes, and protein-rich grains, like quinoa. The Capsicum fruit is packed with nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A, riboflavin, and niacin. It's also rich in calcium, phosphorus, iron, and potassium. An additional benefit comes with the spice; consuming chiles increases enzyme production and helps the body digest fats. This condiment is not only a flavor-booster – it's good for the heart! Chile connoisseurs have their favorites, which range from the super-spicy (Scotch Bonnets, Habaneros) to the mild and tasty (Sweet Cherry and Banana Peppers). California nurseries are expanding their selection of both chile plants and seeds. Treats like Shisitos (East Asia) and Pimientos de Padrón (Spain), once only found in high-end restaurants, can now be grown and grilled at home. Whatever variety appeals to you, all peppers grow well in sunny Southern California.
Capsicum annuum (chile) has three basic needs: full sun; warm weather; and well-drained soil. If you're planting from seed, it's best to start indoors by March or April. Don't worry about missing this year's germination time. Local nurseries stock ready-to-plant peppers of all kinds, and seeds can be gathered at harvest. First, choose a healthy plant, and then select a locale – either in a container or the garden plot. Be sure to separate chiles by variety, as they are notorious for cross-pollinating. This year's Serrano chile may wind up next year's Serrano/Pequín! The following are some basic tips for the chile gardener:
Transplanting – Chiles love sunlight. They prefer temperatures of up to 80 degrees in the day and not below 60 degrees at night. Seedlings can be transplanted once they have developed their true leaves. Transfer plants outdoors once night time temperatures have reached a consistent 50 degrees. Chiles prefer growing alongside other plants. Space them 14 to 16 inches apart, and stake plants if you expect winds.
Soil and Nutrients – Chiles require well-draining soil, and a slightly acidic environment (pH 5.5 – 7). If the planting mix is loamy or moist, adding sand will make for better drainage. A typical tomato fertilizer (5-10-10) can be applied, but chiles don't require much. In fact, too much nitrogen can damage the plant, and inhibit the fruit's growth, so fertilize sparingly. The best strategy is to start with a mineral-rich soil, high in phosphorous, potassium and calcium. Prepare your plots with nutrients before the seedlings go in, then fertilize again lightly when the fruit begins to appear.
Water – Water deeply, and infrequently. Adding warm water will prevent root shock. Do this when the soil surface dries, but don't allow the area to dry completely. Be careful not to over-soak the roots.
Special Care – Unlike zucchini or pumpkins, peppers are self-pollinating. In times of stress, however, hand-pollinating the flowers helps ensure a good yield of fruit. In the afternoon, when pollen levels are highest, use a soft paintbrush or cotton swab. Gently touch one flower center, then another. The fruit is ready to harvest when it comes easily from the stem, about 70 to 80 days from planting, depending on conditions. Chile season can go from July through September. Some types can be treated like perennials, so look for grower's instructions on over-wintering.
Seed Saving – To save seeds, remove them gently from the fruit. To prevent mold, allow them to dry slowly. Store seeds in a paper bag or envelope. When spring comes around, rinse and soak seeds for a few hours, then place in loose planting soil, about ¼ inch deep. Set seed trays in a warm place and moisten regularly. They'll be the start of next year's tasty crop.
- Author: Susan Campbell & Michele Martinez
They're everywhere in Spring, and they're beautiful: Daffodils (genus narcissus). There are countless species, and thousands of hybrids. These perennials multiply in two ways: by bulb division (asexual cloning), where the resulting flower is an exact copy of its predecessor; by seed (sexually), developed in the seed pod behind the petals, where different new flowers will result. Few seeds will naturally pollinate and it can take about five years for a bulb to form and the first flower to bloom. Daffodils are toxic and non-edible. Squirrels avoid eating daffodils, as should pets, because of poisonous crystals in the bulbs and leaves.
Bulbs are one of the first flowers to appear as temperatures slowly increase. Daffodils will generally last three weeks before they begin wilting and dying back. After the flower has wilted, the flower can be deadheaded. This helps focus the plant's energy on re-building the bulb for next year's flower, rather than sending energy to the seeds.
Don't cut back the leaves until they've totally died back. Bulbs need time after blooming to gather and store energy for next year's bloom. Bulb experts encourage watering the withering plant in dry conditions. This will help the bulbs draw in nutrients needed for the next season. Once the foliage is completely withered it's safe to trim back to soil levels. If the flowers did not perform well, consider applying a low-nitrogen, high-potash (potassium) fertilizer after flowering. Otherwise, add bone meal.
Bulb growth includes the production of smaller bulbs. It's a good idea to separate the bulbs every three to four years, providing them with the needed space to encourage larger, healthy blooms. After the leaves have died back, dig up the bulbs and gently pull the clumps apart. Remove dirt and debris and allow them to dry in a cool ventilated area. Save them for autumn planting. While smaller bulbs may not produce for a couple of years, larger bulbs will provide new flowers next season.
During this time the bulb stores the energy it has gathered and lies in wait for the next growing season. As summer comes to a close, local garden centers begin carrying one to three different varieties of daffodil bulbs. Consider buying bulbs directly from daffodil growers -- either through mail catalogues or the internet. Here you'll find countless amazing varieties. Daffodils come in a many colors, including yellow, orange, white, pinks and corals. Similar to a brown onion, newly purchased bulbs should be dry but not shriveled. A bulb should not have any sprouting leaves or roots, nor have moldy soft spots.
Autumn is bulb planting time. Plant bulbs two to four weeks before first frost. Check packaging for planting instructions. In general, daffodils do best when planted in well-draining soil, in full or partial shade. Plant bulbs two to five times their own depth, three to six inches apart. Add a scant amount of bulb fertilizer to the soil, if needed. Wear protective gloves to avoid possible skin irritation.
During winter, the bulbs chill. This chill time is needed for the flower to bloom. With the advantage of cold winters, mountain gardeners can count on great daffodils each year. At lower altitudes, bulbs must be cured to experience the necessary chill time.
Bulb Curing Tips: Bulbs do best when cold-cured at 60 to 65°F, for 6 – 8 weeks. Gently separate clusters, trim roots, and allow bulbs to dry away from sunlight, about a day. A paper bag or other breathe-able wrapper is recommended. Refrigerator storage can work, but bulbs must be kept away from produce. Apples and other fruits emit ethanol gas that may kill dormant flowers. Bulbs kept cool and dry are ready for re-planting in late fall.
And the cycle begins.
Winter months are an important time in the garden. The shorter days bring a regeneration period for plants and the pollinators that will also emerge in spring. As we tend winter gardens or wait for the spring thaw, there are things we can do now to encourage healthy wildlife, come spring. Here are a few facts and tips gleaned from Master Gardeners across the state.
Pollinators need visual cues
As you plan your spring garden, try to imagine it from a bird's eye view. Pollinators are attracted to large swaths of color. Arrange butterfly and bee-attracting flowers in clusters. Introducing a mix of ground-level and taller plants helps provide shelter and wind-screen for beneficial insects. Cut out the pesticides, if possible, and opt for California native plants. An important example is narrow-leaf milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis). Researchers have found that the brightly colored tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica) can carry a debilitating parasite that endangers native monarchs. Migrating species, especially monarch butterflies, are best adapted to native flora: https://monarchjointventure.org/.
Leave some “litter” for the guests
Though we can't observe them, many native bees spend the winter dormant in the garden. Both mason bees and bumblebees nest underground. Carpenter bees and other insect allies burrow in wood during colder months. With this in mind, it's a good idea to keep some areas of “leaf litter” and dead wood on the property. If well managed, small brush, tree stumps and snags (dead trees) can be a benefit, rather than an an eyesore or hazard.
Butterflies need TLC
Butterflies are with us through four cycles of their lives: egg; larval; pupa/chrysalis and adult. Many species over-winter in the garden, hidden amid the foliage. If you've discovered a chrysalis in the garden, you've seen an example of nature's delicate processes. Adult butterflies need water, but because they can't drink from an open water source, gardeners will sometimes create “mud baths” by irrigating the soil near their flower beds. A more contained water source can be made of a bucket, filled with sand. Bury the bucket to the rim, and top-off with water. In springtime, add some sticks or leaves that the butterflies can use as perches, and watch who comes to drink.
Do hummingbirds stick around all winter?
Recent studies show that some varieties of hummingbird stay in Southern California, rather than flying south, in winter. Experts who once advised that we remove nectar feeders around Labor Day, now say it's okay to provide food all winter. Anna's and Allen's hummingbirds now stay year-round, and they may even nest in the colder months. To fill feeders, boil and cool a 4:1 mixture of water and sugar (skip the dye). To keep feeders mold-free, clean them weekly with white vinegar, or warm, soapy water. Citizen science projects help researchers track bird migration patterns. Gardeners can join these efforts, like the Audubon Society's Great Backyard Bird Count, set for February 15-18: http://gbbc.birdcount.org/.
Thirteen Ways to make a Pollinator Garden: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=27516
For more on native plants, including milkweed, visit Theodore Payne Foundation: https://theodorepayne.org
Seeds are ripe when they shake in the pod, are easily removed from the plant, and/or are turning dark in color.
-- from Seed Collection Guidelines for California Native Plant Species, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, by Michael Wall, Seed Conservation Manager
Fall is seed-gathering time in the mountains. Over the past few years, San Bernardino Master Gardeners have begun to highlight seed-sharing, both as part of the Master Gardener mission, and our service to communities. With its hub at Chino Basin Waterwise Community Center, in Montclair, the San Bernardino County Regional Seed Library (SBRSL) also has satellite libraries in Yucaipa and the San Bernardino Mountains. The mountains seed library, still in its infancy, was created with the idea of connecting mountain residents through a shared love of wild-scape gardening.
Native Seed Propagation Propagating native plants can be tricky, because special conditioning is sometimes required to mimic nature's processes. Some plants, for example, need weeks of cool weather before germinating. Others require fire. Some plants prefer being ingested by birds, bears or other critters. A process called stratification is needed for some varieties. This involves storing seeds in a damp, refrigerated environment (33 - 38°F) for 60-90 days, before they're ready to go into the soil. Other seeds require scarification, or the breaking down of husks by acid-washing, hot water baths, sandpaper rubs, or other processes. In talking with Master Gardeners I've heard both success stories, and mixed reviews when it comes to propagating native seeds. Master Gardener/ROWIA member Cori Edwards, of Crestline shared a plan to use pine needles as kindling over a container of fire-start seeds. Mountain gardeners' seed-germinating experiments can be off-beat and interesting, and they always make for good storytelling.
If you are hoping to collect and propagate native seeds, look to the advice of RSABG and the California Native Plants Society and follow some simple guidelines:
- identify plants first (if possible, use both common and Latin names)
- make a note of the conditions in which each plant thrives (what type of soil, sun, and other conditions do you find?)
- always have permission before harvesting seeds
- be sure there are plenty of seeds left on site – use the 5% rule
- do your research to know what special treatments may be needed (should I stratify, scarify, or just go ahead and sow?)
- share! (don't forget to pass on some seeds, along with tips on how to get them started)
San Bernardino County Regional Seed Library (SBRL Facebook Page) https://www.facebook.com/sbrseedlibrary/
Rancho Santa Ana Seed Conservation Project https://www.rsabg.org/conservation/seed-conservation
California Native Plants Society, “California Native Plant Propagation,” by Matt Teel, Jan, 2018 https://www.cnps.org/gardening/california-native-plant-propagation-4014
Heaps Peak Arboretum, Rim of the World Interpretive Association https://www.heapspeakarboretum.com/
- Author: Robin Rowe
I just returned from a 10-day camping vacation. It seems whenever I am away the temperature reaches triple digits. This year proved no different, except wondering how our recently planted citrus and avocado grove on the very exposed south side of the house endured. When we planted the young trees this spring, all sorts of folks felt the need to pull their cars up to the curb and tell us what a bad idea it was to plant trees where they would get sun and wind exposure. We smiled and said, “thank you!” not fully understanding the impact of our tree placement.
When we returned from our trip and drove up to the house, we were happy to see the citrus trees were doing just fine, but those avocado trees were totally stressed out!
So, I am asking myself, did I really do the research I needed to do before planting this young grove between the street and my house? Have I done all I can to help my newly planted trees get through the hot summer? Here are a few things I have learned this week:
1. One of the best ways to avoid heat damaged trees is to select species adapted to one's climate. Were avocado trees a solid choice for my Sunset Zone? Here is how to identify your climate zone: https://www.sunset.com/garden/climate-zones/sunset-climate-zone-los-angeles-area
Newly planted trees are the most heat-susceptible plants. The roots have not had a chance to become established. Turns out citrus and avocado thrive in my climate zone; however, it would be helpful to shade them from the sun and wind while they are young.
2. Before we left, I established a regular watering program with drip hoses and a timer as I have not yet installed my permanent irrigation. It is best to water early in the morning. Keep the tree trunk dry and water outward toward the drip line of the tree.
There is a condition called ''physiological stress' which results from a plant losing water (from transpiration) faster than water can be taken up by the roots, even if enough water is available. This occurs often late in the afternoon of a hot day. Further watering will not help and can lead to root rot unless the roots are truly dry! Check the roots several inches deep to find out how dry the soil actually is.
3. Mulch would have been very helpful, and I neglected to apply the desired 3-4 inches. Keep mulch several inches away from the trunk and remember to replenish it as it breaks down. The mulch keeps soil moisture in and weeds out and buffers soil temperature reducing heat stress.
4. Once trees are stressed from drought or heat, they often succumb to other stressors, such as insects and fungal diseases. Keeping trees healthy is essential. I will need to keep a closer eye on these trees while they recover.
While avocado and citrus are traditionally grown in where I live, there may have been better choices. On the UC ANR Green Blog, ‘UC study seeks street trees that can cope with climate change' is a very interesting piece y authored by Jeannette E. Warnert, reporting on an ongoing research study by UC Cooperative Extension scientists partnering with the U.S. Forest Service. The article also provides a sampling of trees that are part of the study. The following two sites are useful for tree selection for your climate zone: http://calscape.org/(natives) and https://selectree.calpoly.edu/(natives and compatible non-natives).